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Impossible things happen every day

Impossible things happen every day

 As I write this, it’s nearly 11 pm, and Janey is wide awake.  Not an uncommon thing, to be sure, and I’m pretty sure she’s not going to sleep at all tonight.  We’ve learned to tell, over the years, if it’s going to be a sleeping night or not.  

What I’ve been thinking about a lot over this past month is how Janey’s kind of sleep issues just are not much addressed in any kind of sleep advice I’ve ever read.  And I think that’s because sleep experts, or parenting experts, or autism experts, unless they have a child themselves with Janey’s kind of sleep problems, just don’t believe us as parents.  

And it’s not just sleep, I’ve realized over the years.  I don’t think the experts believe how much the wrong food can affect Janey.  I don’t think they believe that she can know so many words but be able to express herself verbally in such a limited way.  I don’t think they believe that it is impossible to fully toilet train her.  I don’t think they believe she can show physical illness in the ways she can.  I don’t think they believe the extremes.  

Or if they do, they don’t know what to do with the kind of extremes we as parents deal with.  It’s easier to just discount what we are telling them and dealing with than to accept there might be areas they aren’t up to helping with.

With the sleep—Janey can and has literally gone 3 nights with a total of 4 hours of sleep.  Not per night—TOTAL over the three days and three nights.  And she can still function—in fact, can still be jumping up and down and giddy on day three.  This happened over Christmas break, and it’s happened before.  Before the break, we saw the other extreme—a two week period where Janey slept pretty much all day and night.  She came home from school and went to sleep, she woke up enough to sleepily go to school, she slept off and on there, she came home from school, ate a lot, and went to sleep again.  We tried near the end of these 2 weeks to talk to her pediatrician, to see her, but before that was possible (with the COVID surge, sleep issues are a low priority), the spell was over.  It was like she decided to catch up on all the lost sleep of many months, and once she did, she went back to little sleep.

With words and speech—I don’t think any speech expert has ever really gotten what I’ve tried to explain about Janey.  She has the words, in her head.  But she can’t access them easily.  One of the only ways I know she DOES have the words is the rare time I’ve caught her in exactly the right mood to do flash cards.  I ask her if she wants to, and if she does, she will name things that amaze me.  Recently, she identified a swan, broccoli, a lime, a skyscraper, a slug, a person crocheting—all within about a minute, all words I’ve never once heard her say before.  But the advice I’ve gotten or read to encourage speech never addresses how to help her retrieve the words she knows.

And toilet training—that’s enough to set me off on a rant.  How is it that Janey has at several points been fully trained, only to lose the skill?  How is it that most of the time, she is trained at school but not at home?  Why does she often need what I’ll call a severe change in the night, when she’s been asleep?  You can write a hundred expert books of advice about motivation, about routine—those aren’t the issues here.  Believe me, if expert advice worked for Janey in that area, we’d have been done with this particular problem many years ago.

The example of Janey not lining up with what is said to be possible that most haunts me—Janey motionless in bed in the hospital.  A doctor shaking the bed.  Janey doesn’t move or make a sound, and the doctor says, almost with a chuckle, “well, she certainly doesn’t have peritonitis!”  But she did, as a result of an appendix that at that point had been ruptured for two days, and would be ruptured another day before finally, she had life saving emergency surgery.  But someone with peritonitis CAN’T keep from screaming and moving when their bed is shaken.  They just CAN’T—unless they do, as Janey did.

My fellow autism parents are reading this with their own lists in mind of the “impossible” things their beloved kids do or don’t do, I’m sure.  I’m preaching to the choir.  But why is it so very hard to get believed?  Is it because it’s easier to give advice based on what you think is true, not what some crazed parents is telling you is true?

This is why I try very hard to not discount what others might think, in all areas of life, to be impossible, insane, foolish.  I know what it’s like to be awake night after night caring for a child that can’t possibly not be sleeping, to be astonished by the words my minimally verbal child is saying with ease, to have a critically ill child not being treated promptly because she is reacting in an impossible way.  Listen to parents, especially when they are speaking for children that are impossibly complex.  I love you, my incredible Janey.

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